Welcome to my B2BMediaTraining blog some small thoughts on life, the universe and dealing with the press from someone who crossed over from practitioner to teacher. The following selection of short articles provides an off-beat (and unashamedly tongue-in-cheek) insight into the many different aspects of the media, along with hints and tips for better communication and an understanding into what gets journalists reaching for their pens, tablets or smartphones to cover your story...
At this point I need to declare an interest. I’m an ex-snapper. I trained as a photographer, did three years at Art School, Diploma in Professional Photography, started off in business life as one…yadda, yadda, yadda. Then I switched to journalism, which is another story altogether. However, that training in the visual arts stood me in good stead as an editor when it came to how I thought a magazine should look. Whether it’s a hard-copy publication or a company website, you’ll always attract more readers and followers if you’ve got stunning/arresting/thought-provoking/quirky photography.
‘A picture is worth a 1,000 words’ might be a cliché, but it’s also true. How else to explain the proliferation of images on social media? Though of course that may be because the words on social media leave much to be desired… Nevertheless! Even the most mundane of press pronouncements stand a better chance of being noticed if they’re accompanied by an attractive high-res image. OK, so the story might not get used but the picture eventually may. A good image has the potential to stick around for far longer than the words that went with it and be used again and again. We’re talking of course about ‘stock’ pictures.
The problem with photography today is that thanks to the ubiquitous smartphone everyone thinks they can take a good photograph. Consequently, far-too many people in the Corporate Comms business believe you don’t need photographers anymore. Why pay money for an expert with an ‘eye’ when you can just point and click and voila! You have an image. But is it one that will get you noticed, rather than simply being a visual record of something or other? Naturally, as an ex-photographer I would say that. But if two stories have the same editorial merit, the one with the better picture is more likely to be used.
Of course, the real skill is creating a stunning image out of the mundane, the everyday. That’s when having an ‘eye’ matters. It’s also why picture libraries with imaginative stock images are so useful for the media. But could your own company provide stock, or more accurately, ‘generic’ images that just happen to feature your product or services, albeit subtly? The next time you commission a photographer to take some specific shots for you, ask them if they can also get some decent generic pictures that might be used, say, with the announcement of company quarterly results, or your annual report.
And here’s another left-field suggestion. Why not talk to the art editors on those specialist and business magazines that cover your industry and ask them: ‘What sort of stories do you struggle to illustrate?’ Then see if you can come up with suitable images of your own to support them, naturally referencing your company or business activities somewhere in the background and supply them FoC. As publishing budgets get ever-tighter your generic shots could prove attractive to a cash-strapped editor. So, the next time they run a broad-brush story about the state of the industry who knows, your business could be in the picture…literally.
Remember the old joke: ‘There’s no future in history’? When it comes to talking to the press, shouldn’t it be all about where you are now, and where you’re going, not where you’ve been? Up to a point. An organisation that fails to cherish its past risks losing a unique opportunity to engage with the media. Why? Because your heritage can confirm your journey to the present whilst offering a strong hint to your future direction too. After all, what better way to demonstrate your progress than by saying where you’ve come from? Try celebrating a major anniversary or landmark without offering the media a then-and-now story and see how much coverage it generates.
But who’s interested in your history? Answer: Those sections of the media, primarily in the business, trade and specialist press, who’ve been on the journey with you. The journalists who, over the years, have covered your ups and downs and (hopefully) triumphs. Never underestimate how your past can help explain to a journalist why you, rather than all those competitors who fell by the wayside, are still standing. It’s called context.
Don’t let anyone tell you either that journalists are immune to nostalgia…they aren’t. An anniversary story can be a powerful reminder of your staying power. As a former business journalist, I was invariably drawn to those organisations that had a heritage…and actively celebrated it. I wasn’t the only one. Heritage stories draw-in not only journalists but also their readers, especially those who have been in the business for a long time.
Of course, it’s pointless trying to leverage your history if you haven’t actually saved it. So it’s important to keep sufficient records of your past published activities, press releases, company announcements, and especially good high-resolution images, and make that material readily-accessible to the media. Is there a ‘History’ section on your website? If not, why not?
Just look at how many companies, and not just the large corporations, that have a distinct history section on their websites as well as the ubiquitous ‘About Us’. It’s an obvious resource for any journalist who’s researching your business to look at, especially those seeking background material for a story. First in the market with an innovative product or service? You should certainly be highlighting it within the ‘History’ section of your website. (See previous remarks on context.)
Over the years I’ve heard all the arguments against keeping business archives. “Who’s got the space to store old brochures, press releases and company pictures? And besides, who’s going to be the custodian of it all?” In the 21st Century, are you seriously suggesting you can’t store your history digitally? As for who should be preserving it for quick access by the media, I’d say your marketing and PR operation. After all, isn’t your longevity and history another message for them to get over to the media?
With COVID-19 changing the face of society, industry and the economy, the media won’t be left untouched. In a post-pandemic world, some things are unlikely to get back to the old ‘normals’. But which ones?
1/. ‘Big Ticket’ events. Whether it’s launching a new product or making a major announcement, COVID has forced organizations to do more things on-line. So post pandemic why go back to spending vast amounts on high-end venues and lavish-entertainment when a press event can all be done virtually, via a web-based ‘experience’, for a fraction of the cost? Getting journalists to register on-line in advance also helps gauge the numbers likely to attend. And while they may miss the social interaction few of them will resent the time they've saved by attending a web event.
2/. Free news. On the basis that ‘Good journalism costs money’, with the notable exception of the BBC the traditional mainstream news publishers increasingly want readers to pay for on-line content. So, expect to see more paywalls and hoops to jump through if you want in-depth coverage beyond the headlines. But regardless of whether-or-not they charge you for their content, most providers will probably want you to register and set-up an account―allowing them to gather data on who’s reading their content. Those data demographics are highly attractive to potential advertisers.
3/. Large editorial teams. Unquestionably, COVID-19 has accelerated the previous on-going process of the slimming-down editorial teams, particularly amongst specialist and trade titles and regional and local newspapers. The pandemic has also opened the door wider to home-working and the shrinking size of editorial offices. Meanwhile, ‘Citizen Journalism’ is creating vast amounts of content (especially images) that the news organizations now tap into. Why send a journalist and photographer to cover a fire when you can acquire content from bystanders with a smartphone?
4/. Trust in the media. Investigations into press behavior have severely undermined whatever belief the public had in the media’s credibility. Consequently, for far too many people the default position now is one of skepticism, cynicism or plain outright denial if a story doesn’t fit their worldview. Simply crying ‘Fake News!’ has also become a great way of dismissing a story without having to prove it actually IS fake. And when social media users believe everything they read it’s only going to get harder for the mainstream media to convince people to view it as the one trustworthy source for news and information.
5/. Hard copy will always be around… perhaps. After a slow and sometimes confusing start, having created on-line versions of their traditional hard-copy publications media companies are now adding unique ‘added-value’ content to their digital offerings. But only to their digital offerings. And it’s not just breaking news either, but commentary, insight and features―the stuff that was previously kept for the hard-copy product. Yet ‘When does everything go on-line?’ is almost the wrong question. What matters for consumers of editorial content is being able to access it in the format of their choice. So whether hard copy lives or dies will ultimately be decided by how much longer the content providers think it’s worth continuing to spend their money on a non-digital format for a dwindling generation that still likes the feel of newsprint…